There’s a powerful scene in The Haunting of Hill House when Nellie (played by Victoria Pedretti) talks about how time is not like dominoes, tumbling in linear fashion, but rather like confetti falling down around us as rain or a blanket of snow. Instead of us moving through time, time moves through us. For Indigo Sparke, time is a great cosmic shift we can only witness, not truly comprehend – an understanding that finds a proper vessel with her debut album, Echo, a nine-track journey through the human condition and the inevitability of life’s impermanence.
“The landscape of the record is very much based in the landscape of me not only pulling and stretching myself out really thin and looking at myself but also stretching out my history and time ─ the days, hours, and minutes,” she tells Audiofemme. 2019 saw the Australian musician traveling across the Southwest United States, from Taos, New Mexico to Topanga, California, and along the way collecting together “different planes and spheres of consciousness” that feeds directly into her music’s timeless aura.
Echo ─ co-produced with Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Andrew Sarlo and released via Sacred Bones on February 19 ─ is her way of expressing every possible emotion, entrenched in deterioration of the human condition, and placing these within a haven “outside of my body,” as a way to extricate and observe. “Everything is dying,” she speaks within the ethereal layers of “Everything is Everything.” Such a statement is confrontational, tearing down long-constructed taboo barriers around even the mention of death itself.
Sparke wanted Echo to mirror the transitions as time wears us all down, stripping away everything we once were, so she kept the arrangements largely raw and bare. “I definitely had moments where I just wanted to fill the space with more sound and texture and tone,” she says. “Maybe I was, in those moments, feeling more full and more intense, so naturally my first impulse was to put more in. I realized that taking more away and stripping it back made the feelings I wanted to transmit more accessible. I could feel them more. They became these monumental sculptures, and you could see them better because they were standing alone in a desert instead of just another tree in a jungle of trees.”
“Carnival” is perhaps the most monumental in this way. “I have pulled apart the cosmos/Trying to find you,” Sparke sends her voice like a flair, a lung-choking smoke emanating around her. She clings to her parents and their teachings, as her earthly form slides from childhood to adulthood, and a “level of grief around separation” swells in her body. “We all have that period in time when we have to transition, and there’s a level of letting go of your parents and the role they play in your life, depending on the relationship you have with them,” she says.
“It can be difficult to step away and reconcile that. A lot of the time, it’s easy to do a bit of transference with that deep sense of attachment we all feel at some point when we’re young with our caregivers and shifting that to a partner in some ways,” she adds. “Or, it’s longing for that depth of connection and symbiosis with another human being in a love relationship. In some way, we come from this cosmic, unknown place and we’re birthed into the world. Our caregivers look after us or they don’t. But there is some level of attachment we have, even through the umbilical cord. We all have that as a reference point.”
Sparke reaches deep within herself to firmly grasp what it means to be a human being in the world, constantly at the mercy of time with no way out. Now, as she nears the end of her 20s, she’s noticed a clear, perhaps quite cosmic, shift in her relationship to time. “I feel that time has become one of the strangest things to me. I feel time exists less and less for me. However, it also speeds up in some ways,” she muses. “My understanding of it has become really obstructed, and I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what changed. The world is always changing, but there is some kind of transcendental shift that’s happened or happens when you start to age.”
Academic journal European Review released a paper in 2019 in which Duke University professor Adrian Bejan proposed “the misalignment between mental-image time and clock time” as the culprit behind such an enormous change in how we relate to and process time. Essentially, as we grow older, our ability to sort stimuli (physical, visual, aural, etc.) slows down, so time seems to clip at a brisker pace.
But it can also feel as though time is moving slower, as Sparke argues from her own experiences. “I feel it’s become very stretched out. That’s what it feels like. It feels like it’s become very nonlinear. It’s become more like a landscape, almost like a canvas in my mind and body. It’s like a canvas that’s been stretched in every direction,” she says, “until it becomes very thin, almost quite translucent in a sense. Then I feel like I’m peering through time from different angles and points on this stretched-out landscape ─ looking not only at myself but almost from a bird’s eye perspective at life and how everything is connected.”
Imagine a crossroads, an all-consuming void, and out of that needlepoint, birth, destruction, creation, and death meet and exist as one. “It’s very difficult to understand where to plant yourself in that. It’s like it’s spiraling out and up,” she adds.
Sparke trails off for a moment ─ and one particular memory floods her senses. “I remember being in Minneapolis, standing in the middle of the snow on a street, and the snow is falling so heavily. But it was just profound. It was all in slow motion, and it was the strangest feeling,” she recalls. “I lost sense of time and myself, in a way. I was witnessing it in these huge snowflakes falling all around me. I felt suspended. We have this idea of the present and how time is moving around us, behind us, and in front of us, and it gives us the gift of things ─ but also takes it away.”
Perhaps buried in innate curiosity, she turned to love as an antidote, which allowed her to “just be and find immense worlds of deep transcendental love and connection.” But she soon fell prey to the notion that “nothing ever stays the same,” she says. “You have love, but love leaves, too. You can have a person, but a person can leave and die and decay. Everything changes and flies away and dies. The only thing we can hold onto is the impermanence of everything. The record is in many ways an exploration of my own journey in reconciling that.”
“Golden Ages” lies at the polar opposite of her emotional journey, a far more “liberated and joyful” space than contemplative. Spending some time in Joshua Tree, feeling the wind and desert on her skin, she yielded herself to “wide open spaces and the excitement of being in a new environment,” she says. “I was feeling the sparks of love but also feeling the edge of possibility of its demise.”
“We are just children trying to deconstruct this fucked-up illusion/Sinking moon and the burning ground,” she coos over a dusty rattle. “It’s a tiny voice that took me down/It’s high hot wind that swept us out.”
She questions that unsettling edge-of-a-cliff feeling, sifting through “all the doubts we can have and the small voices inside our heads” to find a way to “be present in the world and enjoy things. I felt there was this young version of me dancing wildly in the middle of the desert when I wrote this song.”
When all is said and done, Sparke says the only thing we know for certain is “that we’re all going to die at some point.” Death and decay spring up like daffodils across the new record, as well, a reference to her ongoing journey with both natural elements for as long as she can remember.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I always felt so much grief in my chest and my being. I’m quite a sensitive person, so I experience the world in a particular way. I’m sure I see it through the lens of my own experience and history of love and trauma, like we all do,” Sparke explains. “I had a particular level and depth of experience of feeling a certain awareness around grief and decay.”
Across Echo, Sparke wallows in the stillness of such sadness but is simultaneously stricken by “the joy and the surrender of that reconciliation and recognition that that’s the reality we’re living in,” she remarks. “What else are you going to do with it? There’s so many feelings around that. Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel so much in the human body. We’re all so fragile and feeling all these huge things.”
Western culture has an especially strange and detached relationship with rituals and ceremonies, so perhaps it’s not too surprising we turn our backs on death and grief. It is ingrained within us to “look away from death ─ to keep being in life and striving toward this particular point of what it means to be happy in the world, and to obtain, to have, to consume,” Sparke says. “In the pursuit of those things, we lose track of everything else and the meaning behind the small moments. Life is happening in every moment.”
Tibetan Buddhists believe life is a preparation for death, and that awareness opens up our entire beings to transition more easily to the next stage of existence. “It’s probably just incredibly frightening. Nobody wants to face the reality that we’re all going to die,” Sparke says. “There’s this slight belief we’re immortal in some ways. When we start to age, and we realize that we’re mortal beings… there’s not much deep connection to it.”
When Sparke took a trip to Varanasi, India, she quickly noticed a vast difference in relationship to death and the circles of life. “I was walking around, and I was in such a serene state of surrender to existence as it was happening. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, they really have this down.’” She was staying in a hotel along the banks of the Ganges, about 20 meters upriver were the burning ghats where the community would bring dead bodies and cremate them. “They’d be dumping ashes in the river, and someone on the other side, 100 meters down the other way, would be cooking a meal from using the water. It was this total recycling of life happening. There was no question about it.”
Indigo Sparke distills nearly the entire human experience into only nine songs. Death and grief rub right up against joy and love ─ life markers that resonate far beyond any concept of time and space. “We are subconsciously processing all these things anyway,” Sparke points out. “It’s just that they’re quite confronting. I hope the album could be some kind of safe home for the fragility of the human condition.”